Staying on side with Paris (3.4.1-11)

[3.4]    Enter old CAPULET, his WIFE, and PARIS.

CAPULET                    Things have fall’n out, sir, so unluckily

                                    That we have had no time to move our daughter.

                                    Look you, she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly,

                                    And so did I. Well, we were born to die.

                                    ’Tis very late, she’ll not come down tonight.

                                    I promise you, but for your company,

                                    I would have been abed an hour ago.

PARIS                          These times of woe afford no times to woo.

                                    Madam, good night, commend me to your daughter.

LADY CAPULET         I will, and know her mind early tomorrow;

                                    Tonight she’s mewed up to her heaviness. (3.4.1-11)

I’m increasingly interested in the construction of these short – 30-odd lines – functional scenes and how they work, but also interested in seeing them as doing more than ‘merely’ covering the movement of an actor from one part of the stage to another. Here, Romeo needs to get to the balcony, and to have a bit of a breather, and a tidy-up, and possibly make some costume alterations, but this is also a keenly-observed little vignette of shock and grief, family dynamics, and class anxiety. Capulet is really worried that Paris has been scared off by the politics and scandal currently surrounding the Capulet family, and that he will no longer be interested in marrying Juliet: Things have fall’n out, sir, so unluckily is a nicely euphemistic account not only of Tybalt’s death but also, of course, of Tybalt’s murder of Mercutio. So he’s making excuses by saying that Juliet’s been in no fit state to have the subject properly broached (and a reminder here that it’s still only 24 hours since the ball, and a little more than 24 hours since Lady Capulet and the Nurse first spoke to Juliet of the possibility of marrying Paris). But Capulet is also very upset himself – he also loved Tybalt (he says, although the only interaction that we have seen between them was Capulet telling Tybalt to calm down and behave and not challenge Romeo at the party) – and he’s rattled, exhausted, shocked, and taking refuge in commonplaces: Well, we were born to die. Then, a slight needle, or more obsequiousness? I promise you, but for your company, I would have been abed an hour ago. Or is this Paris not knowing when to make his excuses and leave? Fortunately, Paris has been working on a nice bit of phrase-making, which he now deploys: These times of woe afford no times to woo (times is a variant; Q1 has time, which makes more sense and I think I prefer it, although the repetition of times would fit nicely with Paris’s fussiness). He’s being very polite, and is taking his leave – Madam, good night – even as Lady Capulet has also grasped the precariousness of Paris’s intentions towards Juliet and reassures him that she will continue to move Juliet in his behalf. But tonight she’s mewed up to her heaviness, shut up with her melancholy, her mourning – but – of course – more to it: young hawks are mewed up when they are confined for their moult, when they shed their feathers (so Juliet will be transformed in her state, from virgin to wife, that night in the confinement of her room) and falconry and birds generally have been a recurrent motif. Heaviness is a word that’s been associated with Romeo (in his previous love-melancholy) but the lovers have spoken more of lightness and flight (and heaviness, weightiness is also something that’s been sexualised by the Nurse: you shall bear the burden soon at night, she has said to Juliet).

So, yes, quite a lot going on in the first 11 lines of this short, functional scene.


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